Human Evolution

, Volume 21, Issue 2, pp 107–122 | Cite as

The Origins of Domesticated Cattle

  • David CaramelliEmail author


The origin of domestic cattle has perplexed archaeologists for more than a century. Researchers have proposed various theories, which offer alternative spatial and chronological models for the origin and spread of domesticated cattle. One point of discussion is whether domestic cattle had a single or multiple origins; however, most authorities considered that the first steps towards cattle domestication were taken in southwest Asia and that domesticated cattle entered Europe with pastoralists migrating from this region. Domesticated taurine cattle were thought to have entered Africa in successive waves from southwest Asia, while zebu cattle migrated into Africa at a later date from Arabia and the Indian subcontinent. Analysis of mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) shows that taurine and zebu cattle divergence before the Holocene and were probably domesticated independently. Recent mtDNA sequence data shows that African and European taurine cattle were probably domesticated independently, but that there was a process of genetic introgression between taurine and zebu cattle in Africa. Ancient DNA studies over the last 10 years suggest that Northern European aurochsens apparently contributed little or nothing to domestic cattle while Southern European aurochsens apparently made a significant input. However, Middle Eastern aurochsen, unfortunately not typed yet, are expected to be to be very similar to European breeds as well, both because archeological data suggest that the major center of domestication for European Bos taurus breeds was the Fertile Crescent (9), and also because a mtDNA sequence from a Syrian specimen dated at 8,000–9,000 years ago shows a typical European haplotype found both in modern breeds and the Italian aurochsen. Evidence seems to suggest that small to moderate levels of local gene flow from wild Bos primigenius females in selected breeds were either accepted or may be reinforced by Neolithic breeders.


Bos taurus Bos indicus mtDNA ancient DNA introgression European aurochsens 


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© Springer Science + Business Media B.V. 2006

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Dipartimento di Biologia Animale e Genetica, “Leo Pardi” Laboratori di Antropologia ed EtnologiaUniversità di FirenzeFirenzeItaly

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